PLYMOUTH, Mich. – With a 113-day lockout now in the rearview mirror, the Red Wings were back together again for the first time in nine months for Day 1 of a mini-training camp at Compuware Arena.
Detroit was among 28 NHL clubs to hold Day 1 on Sunday, with Phoenix and Florida opted to hold optional skates. Sunday was the first day that players and coaches could begin working together for the upcoming 48-game, which starts Saturday for the Red Wings, who open the season at St. Louis. The Wings’ home opener is Jan. 22 against the Dallas Stars.
The coaching staff put the 25 players through two separate on-ice workouts in front of approximately 1,500 fans, who watched their favorite players and a few new ones, like goalie Jonas Gustavsson, defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo and forward Jordin Tootoo.
“I told the guys this morning I really missed them,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Being around them all the time is a thrill for me. Even watching today, how hard they worked and how they compete, it's pretty special to get to do what we all do for a living. We're just thankful the fans have stuck with us. It's unbelievable that our season ticket base, it hasn't even … it's unbelievable, they're all still there. It's crazy.”
For the first time since 1990-91 the Red Wings will begin a season – abbreviated, or not – without the world’s steadiest defenseman to ever play the game, Nicklas Lidstrom, who retired in June.
The absence of Lidstrom, Brad Stuart (to San Jose) and Brian Rafalski (retired) has some hockey prognosticators predicting the demise of the Red Wings and jeopardizes the franchise’s record of 21-straight postseason appearances, a mark that stands as the best among the four major North American sports. But that’s not how Babcock views his team’s chances.
“I have the same attitude every year when we start,” he said. “We've got to get off to a good start and we're going to keep getting better each and every day and play our best hockey at the end. So that's the attitude I bring each and every day, each and every year. Every year when I talk to you at this meeting right here, I'm scared to death just to make the playoffs. Every single year I've been here and this year's no different.”
Though an era has ended, the Wings still have an arsenal of talent to count on, forward Henrik Zetterberg said.
“There’s a few big pieces that have left the team, but most of the corps guys are still here and we made some additions to the team,” he said. “Of course, losing Nick Lidstrom is a tough one. You can't really replace him.”
The Wings were without two big contributors on Sunday: center Pavel Datsyuk and forward Darren Helm (back). It’s expected that Datsyuk, who had permission from the Red Wings to participate in Sunday’s KHL All-Star game in Russia, will be in camp on Tuesday at Compuware Arena. A sore back held Helm out of Sunday’s practice.
Since last March, Helm has had a bad run of injuries, including a knee sprain, wrist laceration and fractured cheekbone during the lockout. So the thing that the Red Wings didn’t want heading into the short season was to see Helm on injured reserve again.
“We got great news today though. The MRI shows nothing,” Babcock said. “So that's all I was worried about. He'll be back right away. He's got his run out, what did he have last year? The wrist, the face this year already and this, so it's done, isn't it?”
The Red Wings got Sunday started when TV play-by-play man Ken Daniels took to the public address system to fire up the crowd, calling them “The best hockey community in the world”. The players then entered the arena accompanied by “The War”, a former Billboard Top 20 song, by the alternative rock group Angels & Airwaves.
“I just think on 11-hours notices it’s a real tribute to the fans, and a great thing for the organization, to have that people come up to watch us practice,” said Tom Wilson, president of Olympia Entertainment. “We have to earn their trust back and we do that one day at a time and one fan at a time and we’re well on our way to making a great contribution to this city once again.”
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